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Major Alberto Burri retrospective at the Estorick Collection.
David Franchi – Wednesday, 11th April 2012
“he created a new aesthetic”
Closed with a great success of public “Alberto Burri: Form and Matter” exhibition at the Estorick Collection. It has been the first major retrospective of the work of Burri helded in the United Kingdom.
The importance of Alberto Burri is indubitable. He has been an eminent figure of abstraction whose work revolutionised the artistic lexicon of the post-war art world. His main contribution to the art has been the usage of modest materials, including sacking and tar. Therefore, in the 1950s, he created a new aesthetic which later was a major source of inspiration for the Arte Povera movement.
Spanning over four decades, “Alberto Burri: Form and Matter” was a significant survey of the achievement of the artist displaying forty intriguing pieces. Beginning with his early paintings – rare figurative pieces of the late 1940s – the Estorick Collection exhibition offered a comprehensive view over the production of Burri, ending with his innovative abstract pieces for which he is best known, and complemented by documentaries, films and a fully illustrated catalogue.
Alberto Burri was born (12th March 1915) in Città di Castello, in Umbria (Italy). With a degree in medicine, he served as a physician doctor in North Africa during the Second World War. He was taken prisoner in 1943 in Tunisia and interned in a prisoner-of-war camp in Hereford, Texas, USA.
There Burri began to paint and continued later at his return to Italy. After his release in 1946,
Burri moved to Rome. His first solo show was at the Galleria La Margherita in 1947; his works were made in a style strongly informed by Expressionism. At the “Alberto Burri: Form and Matter” on display from this period, ‘Procession of the Dead Christ’ (1946) and ‘Upper Piazza’ (1947).
However, Burri quickly developed his art by abandoning his figurative approach. He began to explore abstraction in colourful but subtle works. Between 1948 and 1950 he adopted a radical approach to painting, investigating the utilisation of the matter and challenging the two-dimensional nature of the wall-mounted artwork.
Alberto Burri soon turned to abstraction and nonconforming materials, making collages with pumice, tar, and burlap, and started a series of three-dimensional canvases. In the 1950s, Burri began producing charred wood and burlap works, then welded iron sheets, such as in ‘Sacking and Red’ (1954), ‘Sack’ (1954) and ‘Iron’ (1960) on show at the Estorick Collection exhibition.
In the early 1960s he started to manipulate burned plastic, as the “Alberto Burri: Form and Matter”
displays ‘Red Plastic’ and ‘Combustion’ both from 1961. In the early 1970s Alberto Burri started his cracked paintings, called “Cretti”, a series of works using industrial material – such as Cellotex – from 1979 through the 1990s. “Alberto Burri: Form and Matter” highlights from this period ‘White Cretto’ (1975).
In the 1980s, Burri created a land art project in the Sicilian town of Gibellina, a place abandoned following an earthquake in 1968, with the inhabitants being rehoused in a newly built town 18 km away. He covered most of the old town with white concrete and called it the ‘Grande Cretto’.
Alberto Burri died in Nice (France) on the 15th February 1995. He was awarded with the Italian Order of Merit. His hometown, Città di Castello, has dedicated to him a large permanent museum. In 1981, in fact, the Fondazione Burri (Trust Burri) was opened, today the largest repository of Burri’s works, bequeathed by the artist to his hometown.
Curated by the art historian Massimo Duranti, this exhibition has been organised under the patronage of Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini in Città di Castello and draws on a number of important public and private collections in Italy and the United Kingdom, including Tate Modern, the Musei Vaticani and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome.
From 13th January until 7th April 2012.
At the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, Canonbury, London.